As a young girl in Texas, Shirley Schell began fighting injustice whenever she could. While she never lost her Texas accent, Shirley eventually found herself residing up north. After a move to Delaware in 1964, Shirley became a fierce advocate for justice in education, helping abused and neglected children, ensuring an adequate education for homeless children, ending wage discrimination, and fighting for women’s rights — and much of this incredible work was accomplished during her time as a volunteer at the ACLU of Delaware.
In the late 80’s, after retiring from her successful legal career, Shirley asked then-Executive Director of the ACLU of Delaware, Judy Mellen, for an opportunity to become a volunteer lawyer for the organization.
As a no-nonsense, dedicated ACLU-DE legal volunteer, Shirley chaired the newly-formed children’s rights project in Delaware. As chair, she worked with the organization to come to an agreement with the state that addressed the issue of children who were being abused and neglected in their homes — a problem that was mostly kept “behind closed doors” at that time. Shirley worked tirelessly until she got the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families (under then-Secretary Tom Eichler in Governor Tom Carper’s administration) to agree to a settlement. This settlement resulted in a significant increase in the number of caseworkers attending to children, and continued meetings on a bi-annual basis to ensure that the agreement continued to be met.
Shirley was also instrumental in getting Delaware to allow homeless to be able to attend school wherever they were living. Prior to her efforts on this issue, schools were inadequately using the federal funds that they received to help children with housing insecurities through the McKinney Act. Research showed that the Department of Education was taking this money, but it was not being used for this purpose. Once Shirley found out about this, she didn’t stop until the situation was fixed. She never took “no” for an answer.
Shirley relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2001, where she lived out the rest of her life with her family. Here at ACLU-DE, she will always be remembered for her determination, perseverance, intelligence, and of course, for her tireless commitment to helping some of Delaware’s most vulnerable children.
Our thoughts are with Shirley’s friends and family, and to all who knew and loved her here in Delaware. The indelible mark that she left on the ACLU of Delaware will not be forgotten.